More di­verse ... some­what

The Gram­mys re­spond to calls for more di­ver­sity, but miss­ing artists in­di­cate more progress is needed.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - LOR­RAINE ALI TELE­VI­SION CRITIC

The ef­fort to be more in­clu­sive showed progress, but there is still far to go.

The 61st Grammy Awards ap­peared to be an ex­em­plary model of di­ver­sity and progress as an un­prece­dented num­ber of fe­male artists — in­clud­ing Cardi B, mak­ing his­tory as the first solo woman to win for rap album and Kacey Mus­graves, who won the night’s album of the year prize — dom­i­nated the evening’s live per­for­mances. Ali­cia Keys (not LL Cool J or James Cor­den) hosted. And a notable num­ber of African Amer­i­can artists were nom­i­nated in main­stream cat­e­gories out­side of rap and R&B.

But it was clear from who wasn’t at the Sta­ples Cen­ter on Sun­day that all was not well. The Record­ing Academy’s fraught re­la­tion­ship with women and artists of color played a star­ring role dur­ing a cer­e­mony that was as much an ode to di­ver­sity as it was a repa­ra­tion ef­fort.

What were they mak­ing up for? More than a half a cen­tury of op­er­at­ing like most other en­ter­tain­ment medi­ums un­til move­ments such as #Os­carsSoWhite, #MeToo and #TimesUp forced the first real signs of change in the TV and film in­dus­tries.

The mu­sic in­dus­try has been slow to catch up. Last year just one woman won a solo award dur­ing the tele­cast. And it didn’t seem the or­ga­ni­za­tion felt any pres­sure to change things up when the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Record­ing Academy, Neil Port­now, said women in mu­sic should “step up” to ad­vance their ca­reers.

It was the same year that Kendrick La­mar was passed over by the academy for an album that went on to win a Pulitzer. His Grammy snub fol­lowed a pat­tern of rap­pers such as Jay-Z be­ing asked to per­form, mak­ing the show look di­verse, only to be passed over for wins in pop and main­stream cat­e­gories.

This year, the Gram­mys be­came the lat­est awards show to vis­i­bly strug­gle with the over­whelm­ing calls for change. Child­ish Gam­bino, who won in three ma­jor cat­e­gories in­clud­ing best record, wasn’t there to pick up his awards. Nei­ther was Ari­ana Grande, who won in the pop cat­e­gory. It was as if they were taunt­ing academy vot­ers when, dur­ing com­mer­cial breaks, emo­jis of both artists ap­peared in sep­a­rate ads for Ap­ple Me­moji and Google Play­moji, singing the songs they would have per­formed.

Best album nom­i­nee La­mar, who led with eight nom­i­na­tions, also re­fused to at­tend. Drake, up for best album and six more awards, sur­prised ev­ery­one when he showed up to re­ceive his award for rap song. But he took the op­por­tu­nity to voice the frus­tra­tion of a gen­er­a­tion of artists locked out by a mainly white, mainly male vot­ing body.

“This is a busi­ness where it’s up to a bunch of peo­ple who might not un­der­stand what a mixed-race kid from Canada is say­ing, or a fly Span­ish girl from New York … The point is, you’ve al­ready won if you have peo­ple who are singing your songs word for word, if you’re a hero in your home­town. Look, if there’s peo­ple who have reg­u­lar jobs who are com­ing out in the rain and snow, spend­ing their hard­earned money to buy tick­ets to your shows, you don’t need this [Grammy award] right here. I prom­ise you. You al­ready won.”

Grande tweeted that she had a dis­pute with pro­duc­ers over what she wanted to per­form. “It was when my creativ­ity & self ex­pres­sion was sti­fled by you, that i de­cided not to at­tend,” she posted.

The Gram­mys did make changes af­ter last year’s cer­e­mony to be more in­clu­sive and rep­re­sen­ta­tive of to­day’s mu­sic in­dus­try. On Sun­day, eight acts rather than five com­peted in the top four cat­e­gories of album, record, song of the year and best new artist.

The three-and-a-half-hour show opened with the Latin mu­sic num­ber “Ha­vana” led by Camila Ca­bello and fea­tur­ing Colom­bian rap­per J Balvin and Ricky Martin.

But it was clear the show had a fe­male em­pow­er­ment theme when Keys opened things along­side pow­er­ful women Michelle Obama, Jada Pin­kett Smith, Jen­nifer Lopez and Lady Gaga, who shared what mu­sic meant to them. They kicked off one of the more spon­ta­neous ceremonies in mem­ory, which in­cluded 20-plus per­for­mances by artists rang­ing from Dolly Par­ton with Miley Cyrus to best new artist win­ner Dua Lipa with St. Vin­cent.

Not ev­ery­one, how­ever, ap­peared com­fort­able. And af­ter Janelle Monae’s bom­bas­tic per­for­mance of “Django Jane” — in which she shouted the lyric, “Let the vag­ina have a mono­logue!” — there was no way the agro funk of the Red Hot Chili Pep­pers could look any­thing but out of place.

The ma­jor artists who didn’t show spoke vol­umes with their si­lence, but the ef­fort to make the Gram­mys rel­e­vant and rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the artists it’s sup­posed to honor might have been bet­ter served if, say, Don­ald Glover (aka Gam­bino) had been there to take the mike. His win­ning num­ber, “This is Amer­ica,” speaks for it­self, as does the “Black Pan­ther” sound­track by La­mar.

In film and TV, it took out­spo­ken ac­tors and be­hind-the-scenes folks speak­ing out against a white, pa­tri­ar­chal sys­tem — at the ceremonies that had over­looked them for so long — to fi­nally crack open the doors. The Em­mys and Golden Globes were the lat­est proof. Mu­sic isn’t there yet. Just take a look at this USC An­nen­berg study that showed there’s a long way for women to go in the record busi­ness.

But Sun­day looked like the be­gin­ning of the end for a tra­di­tion that’s woe­fully out of touch with the medium it’s meant to honor.

Pho­to­graphs by Robert Gau­thier Los An­ge­les Times

DRAKE makes a sur­prise visit to the Gram­mys stage Sun­day at Sta­ples Cen­ter to re­ceive his award for rap song for “God’s Plan.”

LUD­WIG Go­rans­son, cen­ter, ac­cepts the record of the year award in Child­ish Gam­bino’s ab­sence.

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